1 Corinthians 7:23 – You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. (NIV)
Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (ESV)
Being enslaved to human masters can wear on a person. Whether it’s having to seek counsel for what color or style of underwear you want to wear (no, I’m not kidding), or whom you marry and when, Jesus didn’t buy our freedom only to hand us over to the rabbi class of the so-called One True Church. God created the human spirit to be free, made in his image. Humans need autonomy, and that need matures and grows as we move from our teen years into adulthood.
Those who are willing to exercise personal liberty at the expense of other members of society become criminals. “No one can tell me what to do” is the hallmark attitude of the budding criminal mind. But we don’t talk as much about its polar opposite. There is another type of person, the “please just tell me what I need to do” person who comes to believe that life is easier as a follower. And it is; you don’t have to think for yourself.
Throughout all of human history, the impulse to be free and independent has done fierce battle against this other human impulse…to live comfortably enslaved to other people. People do it in relationships, jobs, churches—any situation where humans interact. When leaders succeed in breaking the will of their subjects, the subjects come to depend on them for everything. Suppressing the human desire to be free doesn’t happen overnight. Controlling leaders simply add layer upon layer of demands so that fallible human authority is submitted to gradually, like the frog in the hot water.
But just as submission to the yoke of oppression doesn’t happen all at once, gaining the strength to cast it off doesn’t, either. It starts with a stirring of hope. “What would it be like to be free?” No doubt the slaves of yesteryear dreamed of one day attaining their freedom from the yoke of their masters. But that question ultimately leads to pondering what one would do with real freedom, and ultimately, plotting how to obtain it. All of this culminates in a personal independence day—a day when the chains of oppression, once self-imposed, are eagerly cast off.
There is nothing wrong with leadership, and there is nothing wrong with people following godly leaders. We should all be humbly led by humble leaders. But we should never be discouraged from asking bold questions of our leaders, and when we do, the humble ones will take those questions seriously. When their answer is to refuse to answer hard questions, accuse you of murmuring and threaten withdrawal for seeking answers elsewhere, and use other fear and intimidation tactics to keep you or your family members silent, well, that’s a problem. That’s not leadership, it’s tyranny.
There is a time to throw off illegitimate authority, like the colonialists did during the founding of our country. Many of the “law and order” Christians of the day—the very ones who, ironically enough, most wanted to escape the heavy hand of the king—argued against colonial independence. They were like the Stanton loyalists of today, who may disagree with the sect’s teachings, but defend its power structure and right to exist, nonetheless. It’s odd how the human heart, under so many years of oppression, comes to identify with its captors, whether physical or intellectual.
Humans have an innate desire to grow their power, influence, and prestige. It’s part of being human—or rather, part of being made in the image of God. How can that be, you say? How could people made in God’s image become tyrants?
Because God made us to be creators, leaders, conquerors. We want to build things and influence people. There’s nothing wrong with those instincts if we have godly character—putting others first, leading compassionately, humbly serving those we lead, as Jesus exemplified. Jesus turned the world upside down with this model of leadership.
But being made in the image God, without that impulse being tempered by the fruits of the spirit, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, is a recipe for tyranny. And tyranny describe the whole of human history, when you think about it. Atilla the Hun, Gengis Kahn, Alexander the Great, Muhammed, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler—history gives us a long list of conquerors who were not godly men.
History also has a long list of spiritual leaders who were not godly people. Going back to the earliest pagan times, humans elevated fallible humans to the role of gods, priests and priestesses, and spiritual advisors. Nations elevated their kings as deities, self-declared prophets obtained excessive political power, and Christians, being human, did the same in their churches.
The Catholic Church, the oldest of Christian sects, is replete with ungodly leaders at the helm in its history of conquest and political power. But think about this. Martin Luther didn’t throw off those chains and forever alter Christian history until 1517, when he nailed his 95 theses to the wall of Castle Church. If we peg the beginning of Jesus’s church to about 33 A.D., that means humans immediately began to elevate other fallible humans to positions of spiritual authority over themselves, and submitted to those human overlords, for over 1400 years before casting off the shackles.
Everyone has to reach the point where it means enough to them, personally, to break free from the control of the people hindering their relationship with God. It became impossible for the Jewish people to foster a real relationship with the God of Heaven, because the rabbis had set themselves up as the intermediaries. Their “leadership” in judging the day to day application of the Law of Moses was actually a roadblock to freedom under God. So God sent Jesus to set the captives free.
If you declare your personal Independence Day and break free of the shackles Stanton has placed on you, don’t make the mistake so many others have in the past of thinking that Stanton = God and therefore No Stanton = No God. That is Stanton’s conceit, and it is idolatry, plain and simple.
On the other hand, leaving Stanton does not mean you have absolute freedom to do whatever you want, and live life with no authority in your life. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and have been baptized into his name, your freedom was bought with a price. You are called to use your freedom for a higher purpose:
Galatians 5:13-14 – You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (NIV)
Many of you have started that journey already, with a joyful Independence Day you can look back on. Others are of you are still wrestling with your faith, or the complicated family dynamics that will happen as a consequence of leaving, or just the outright fear of the unknown in taking that first step.
But God created us to be free. New Jersey’s motto is “Live free or die,” and it is true. At some point you will will have to free yourself, or die inside. My advice: Seek God for the next right thing to do. You may not know what the step after that is going to be. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing the right thing now.
Comment, email, or call me if you need encouragement and prayer. But by all means, pursue and defend your freedom in Christ. This could be your own personal Independence Day.